D-Day as arbitrator holds SA game in his hand


OPINION: The outcome of an arbitration in the stand-off between the players' union, MyPlayers, and the South African Rugby Union is imminent.

It is an outcome that could dramatically impact the 'livelihood' of hundreds of players in the country.

It is no secret that the stand-off between SARU and MyPlayers could cancel the oldest and once the most prestigious domestic competition in the world.

If the ruling favours MyPlayers, there is every likelihood that SARU will pull the plug on a tournament with 135 years of acclaimed and celebrated history.

At the heart of the dispute is an insistence by SARU and SAREO (the employers' organisation) that players should be allowed to play for periods longer than 12 months.

The dispute came after SARU decided to move the Currie Cup – which had overlapped with the United Rugby Championship for the last couple of years – to a new window between July and September.

In recent years July and August were reserved as the annual rest period for all the provincial players.

There was an initial agreement that the unions would be allowed to 'rest' players on an individual basis.

However, in a dramatic about-turn, SARU insisted on the inclusion of a provision that would allow players to play for up to 20 months without a break.

This resulted in the stand-off and an arbitration hearing that concluded on May 9.

The arbitrator suggested that he would require a fortnight to deliver his decision.

That expired this past Thursday.

By Friday there was still no answer, which may be frowned upon in some circles - unless the participating parties know more than they are letting on.

The sponsor, lined up by SARU, is already getting apprehensive and ill at ease - so much so they are ready to walk away.

If MyPlayers wins and the premier players are unavailable, the sponsor will also get cold feet.

While a small collection of top-flight players will not be harmed by a decision to pull the plug on the Currie Cup, there is a large number for whom it will be a disaster.

What will the hundreds of players from the Cheetahs, Griquas, Pumas, Griffons and the First Division teams - Boland, Border, Eastern Province, Falcons, South Western Districts and North West - do without a competition?

Maybe they are not the most prized assets, but they will suddenly fall into the 'unemployed' category.

Also, the four 'international' franchises have a large number of fringe players that require game time - something they may not have received in the United Rugby Championship.

The arbitrator's decision will change the entire landscape of the game in South Africa.

MyPlayers are looking after the best interest of their 'clients', but it may benefit a small minority of their patrons.

The bulk of the country's employable players are waiting anxiously to hear if they will have a competition to play in, from July onwards.